Symposium.(Democrat Charles B. Rangel and Army Reservist James Lacey on military conscription )

Author/s: Charles B. Rangel, James Lacey
Issue: Feb 4, 2003

Q: Is restoring universal military conscription in the United States a good idea?

YES: Those who call for war against Iraq should be willing to put their own sons and daughters in harm's way.

BY REP. CHARLES B. RANGEL

Rangel (D-N.Y) is serving his 16th term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee and serves on the Joint Committee on Taxation.

President George W. Bush and his administration have declared a war against terrorism that soon may involve sending thousands of U.S. troops into combat in Iraq. I voted against the congressional resolution giving the president authority to carry out this war--an engagement that would dwarf our military efforts to find Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

But as a combat veteran of the Korean conflict, I believe that if we are going to send our children to war the governing principle must be that of shared sacrifice. Throughout much of our history, Americans have been asked to shoulder the burden of war equally. That's why I have asked Congress to consider and support legislation I have introduced to resume the military draft.

Carrying out the administration's policy toward Iraq will require long-term sacrifices by the American people, particularly those who have sons and daughters in the military. Yet the Congress that voted overwhelmingly to allow the use of force in Iraq includes only one member who has a child in the enlisted ranks of the military; just a few more have children who are officers.

I believe that if those calling for war knew that their children were likely to be required to serve--and to be placed in harm's way--there would be more caution and a greater willingness to work with the international community in dealing with Iraq. A renewed draft will help bring a greater appreciation of the consequences of decisions to go to war.

Service in our nation's armed forces no longer is a common experience. A disproportionate number of the poor and members of minority groups make up the enlisted ranks of the military, while the most privileged Americans are underrepresented or absent. We need to return to the tradition of the citizen soldier, with alternative national service required for those who cannot serve because of physical limitations or reasons of conscience.

There is no doubt that going to war against Iraq severely will strain military resources already burdened by a growing number of obligations. There are daunting challenges facing the 1.4 million men and women in active military service and those in our National Guard and Reserves. The Pentagon has said that as many as 250,000 troops may be mobilized for an invasion of Iraq. An additional 265,000 members of the National Guard and Reserves, roughly as many as were called up during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, also may be activated.

Already, we have long-term troop commitments in Europe and the Pacific, with an estimated 116,000 troops in Europe, 90,000 in the Pacific (nearly 40,000 in Japan and 38,000 in Korea) and additional troop commitments to operations in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere. There also are military trainers in countries across the world, including the Philippines, Colombia and Yemen. We can expect the evolving global war on terrorism to drain our military resources even more, stretching them to the limit.

The Bush administration has yet to address the question of whether our military is of sufficient strength and size to meet present and future commitments. Those who would lead us into war have the obligation to support an all-out mobilization of Americans for the war effort, including mandatory national service that asks something of us all.

The following is a partial transcript of Rep. Rangel's statements at a Capitol Hill press conference on Jan. 7 as published by Reuters:

As many of you know, I have introduced a bill that will require mandator military and national service for all of our young people, without exceptions for college or graduate courses, with the exception of allowing youngsters to finish high school at a given age.

The president of the United States will have the discretion to determine the number of people who will be necessary for the military, and those who because of impairments or disabilities cannot serve in the military will be required to perform other national services at our borders, in our schools, in our seaports and in our airports.

There are those who would want to believe that the introduction of this legislation at this time is because I want to show my objections and feelings against the United States of America being involved in a unilateral pre-emptive strike against the people and the government of Iraq. Others would believe that I would want to make it clear that if, indeed, there is a war that there would be more equitable representation of the American people making the sacrifices for this great country of ours.

Both of those objectives are mine. I truly believe that those who make the decision and those who support the United States going into war would feel more readily the pain that's involved, and the sacrifice that's involved, if they thought that the fighting force would include the affluent and those who historically have avoided this great responsibility.

Question: Is this an equity issue or is this because we're standing on the brink of war?

Rangel: With my whole heart I hope this country does not go to war. With my whole heart I do not believe that there is this imminent threat to the security of the United States. I have a lot of reservations about this war. But as I tried to say, if for whatever reason war is inevitable, then I mean every word that I said about the defense of this country. I would use this [the proposed draft] as a platform for peace and diplomacy. But I don't want to take away from the fact that we're treating North Korea differently than we're treating Iraq--North Korea has no oil. Iraq has the oil.

But assuming I was pro-war, I would be taking the very same position I'm taking today. If I thought it was necessary to wipe out Saddam Hussein and to attack North Korea and to look for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and to preserve the peace in Europe, I would say that the cavalier way in which people talk about taking out people--it appears to me they're talking about some French Foreign Legion. We are talking about Americans here. And that responsibility should be shared by all Americans.


 

 
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Question: You seem to be implying that Americans are fighting the war on terrorism, but affluent parents aren't willing to support it.

Rangel: I'm not saying that they're not willing to support it. I'm saying that those that support the war that come from these classes have no need to fear that their kids would be involved. I've had a lot of Marines and Army people and veterans and others say that if they thought for one minute that when we said that "we will take out these people" that you meant their sons, that they would take a different attitude.

Question: How would you decide who [of the eligible draftees would be called]?

Rangel: When I was counsel to President [Lyndon] Johnson's National Advisory to the Selective Service, we left that to the needs of the military. That would be established by the executive branch through lottery.... What happens is that when you're selected, they decide what you can do best. And they selected a high-school dropout like me to be a fire-direction specialist directing military arterial fire, 155-millimeter howitzers, and I couldn't count, but they taught me how.... Different people will have different responsibilities. Very few people will have to fight in the foxholes.

The overwhelming majority of military people have noncombatant positions. And so, whatever the need is for the front lines, those are the needs. And I do believe that women can fulfill a lot of those responsibilities in and out of combat. They've proven that.

Question: Are you concerned at all as to [OFF-MIKE] National Guard. What do you think about homeland security?

Rangel: We can have more people feel a sense of responsibility to the government as relates to homeland security. We need as many trained eyes as we can get. We need people at our airports, our seaports, our borders, our schools, our hospitals. We need a nation that has to be just as prepared as this president for war.

Question: [As for] the people who don't go into the military, how are you going to make this meaningful for them?

Rangel: I don't know. I'd like to believe that in this great nation of ours--with the cutbacks that we have in social services, in health and in education--that we won't have leaf-raking as a national priority. We've got real needs in our cities. The governments have real needs. And if in some way we can fill those gaps and make it possible for trained, dedicated young people to provide those services and feel a sense of patriotism, because they could not be called or it was unnecessary for them to be called for military services, I think that they would be better Americans and better trained Americans because they did it.

NO: The modern military needs a smaller force of highly motivated, trained professionals, not a horde of draftees.

BY JAMES LACEY

Lacey, an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve with 15 years of active-duty experience, writes commentaries on military issues, politics and the economy from New York City for INSIGHT and other publications.


 

 
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Thanks to Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), the recurring question of whether to reinstate the draft has been thrust to the front of the public-policy debate. Ignoring the fact that Rangel's push for a renewed draft is little more than a political ploy to undermine support for any action in Iraq, the question of whether we need a draft still is an important one.

Those who honestly are calling for a renewed draft have a variety of arguments at their disposal, ranging from the high cost of payrolls and recruiting to building a common experience in our youth that will bind us together as a nation. Under close examination none of them holds a lot of water. Lately, the threat of having to confront North Korea and Iraq at the same time has drawn attention to the fact that our military is not large enough to meet the challenge. Some are claiming that since the military already is having trouble reaching its recruiting goals that the only way to meet the needs of any future force expansion is a draft. They are wrong

The best reason for not calling for a draft is that no member of the combined Joint Chiefs of Staff is asking for one. These are the men responsible for protecting our country and ensuring that our armed forces are fully prepared to meet any potential enemy. It is a trust that these men take very seriously. As junior officers all of them faced combat on the front lines in Vietnam. They are therefore intimately acquainted with the kind of army that can, result from a draft. Most of them swore that the mistakes that led to the debacle in Vietnam would not be repeated on their watch. One of those mistakes was the draft. If the Joint Chiefs do not want a draft, there had better be a good reason to force one on them.

The congressman claims that we need a draft to ensure that the burden of any future conflict is shared by all and does not fall primarily on the poor and on minorities. This is an old canard that he trots out from time to time to make his fellow legislators feel guilty about voting to commit military force. He last used it when he voted against the use of force in the Persian Gulf in October 2002.

Disproportionate military losses among minorities is a myth that began in the Vietnam era and is a total fabrication. Minorities did not die in Vietnam or in any conflict thereafter in any greater numbers than they are represented in the population. And, with the exception of 1966, the exact opposite has been the case. Blacks made up 12 percent of the deaths in Vietnam, 13.1 percent of the U.S. population and almost 11 percent of our troops in Vietnam. Whites (including Hispanics) made up 86.4 percent of those who served in Vietnam and 88 percent of those who died there. The highest rate of black deaths in Vietnam was 16.3 percent (in 1966)--and almost all of those killed that year were volunteers for elite units, not reluctant draftees.

During the Persian Gulf War, blacks made up 12 percent of the U.S. population, 24.5 percent of the military personnel deployed to the gulf and 15 percent of the total casualties. Whites made up 66 percent of the U.S. forces in the theater and 78 percent of the casualties. Today, blacks make up 19.6 percent of the military (26.7 percent of the Army). But they are unlikely to become casualties in anywhere near those percentages. If the war is fought as it was in Afghanistan, any losses will be overwhelmingly Caucasian. Pilots are mostly white, and blacks make up less than 4 percent of the Special Forces units. Even in a conventional assault, black casualties will be considerably less than their enlistment rate because today's front-line combat force is composed mostly of whites. As is well-documented, whites tend to sign up for adventure; blacks tend to enlist to gain job skills, so fewer wind up in the combat battalions.


 

 
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That still leaves open the question of whether our military is composed mostly of economic refugees. The evidence says no. Virtually every member of the armed forces has a high-school diploma, in contrast to 79 percent of the comparable youth population. Practically all new recruits place in the top three intellect categories (as measured by the Armed Forces Qualification Test), versus 69 percent of their civilian counterparts. New soldiers also read at a higher level than their civilian counterparts.

A thorough study by Columbia University's Sue Berryman concluded that enlistees "do not come from the more marginal groups on any of four dimensions: family socioeconomic status, measured verbal and quantitative abilities, educational achievement and work orientation." Overall, both the rich and the poor are somewhat underrepresented in our armed forces. Rather, the U.S. military closely reflects the makeup of our large middle class.

Rangel also makes the point that if there were a draft that made no special allowance for the sons of the rich and powerful we would be a lot slower to rush into war. He says that if senators and congressmen knew that their own children were on the firing line they would pause to think long and hard before voting to commit them anywhere.

This sounds good in theory, but it does not pass the reality test. Even if the sons of the powerful do enter the military they easily will be able to find jobs well away from any potential danger--as did the young Al Gore, a well-behind-the-lines journalist. There may be some like the Kennedys or the Roosevelts who insist on being at the point of danger, but all those who want to stay in the rear easily will be able to do so.

Actually, the real moral danger of a draft is that it will provide so many troops that there might be a temptation to waste them in useless engagements. This is what history has demonstrated over and over again. The bloody charges into massed rifles during the Civil War could not have been sustained without a draft to replace those slaughtered. In World War I, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George actually began holding back reinforcements so that his generals could not waste their lives in another big-push offensive. During World War II, Gen. George Marshall used to walk the casualty figures into the president every day to remind him that real men were dying on every decision he made. Finally, does anyone think the useless carnage of Vietnam could have continued year after year if we had a volunteer force? At some point the volunteers would have been reduced to a trickle and we would have had to find another solution.

Furthermore, those who are calling for a draft fail to recognize that war has changed dramatically in the last three decades. A high-technology force conducting incredibly rapid operations requires well-trained professionals, not short-term draftees. An army of draftees would be little more than cannon fodder for any advanced force to chew up. If we require every able-bodied male to serve 18 months to two years after he turns 18, then we are talking about inducting more than 1.5 million draftees a year.


 

 
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This is more than enough troops for 100 Army divisions, hundreds of air wings and a 1,000-ship Navy. Equipping and training that force to the same standard as our current military would cost in the area of $3 trillion--and another $1 trillion a year to maintain it. Leading these divisions will require a cadre of long-term professional officers and sergeants that dwarfs the size of our current military. Encouraging this many draftees to re-enlist would wipe out any savings in personnel costs that a draft supposedly would provide.

Of course, no one is going to bankrupt the nation to build a military 10 times larger than what we currently need. This means that less than one in five of the eligible draftees would be needed or called. Given that only a proportion of the eligible males would be called, anyone who thinks that the draft will remain a fair cross section of our society is living in a dream world. More likely the military would become even less representative of society as the rich and middle class would do whatever they had to in order to avoid contact with the "undesirable elements" who would be caught up in a draft. At present, recruiters seeking the highest-quality volunteers turn these undesirables away.

True, during the last few years the military has had considerable difficulty meeting its recruiting goals. More than anything this reflects the fact that the military is refusing to compromise on quality. As a former recruiting commander I often lamented how many people we had to interview, physically examine and test just to get one qualified applicant. Throughout my tenure the ratio never fell below 14-to-l, though some other districts did a bit better. If the services lowered their standard even minimally they could enlist their yearly goals by March and close their recruiting offices.

Some make the argument that if the military cannot use all of the draftees then they should be enlisted into some other form of national service. Has anyone thought about the size of the bureaucracy that would have to be created to mobilize, train, deploy, feed, house and monitor several million 18-year-olds every year? You would need a second army dedicated to doing nothing but keeping track of teen-agers. Besides, what rational being believes that the federal government is the best organization for putting our youth to useful work? In no time at all our children will become pawns for whatever is the political flavor of the day.

Now that we are locked in a death struggle with terrorists, facing a war with Iraq and possibly having to confront a belligerent North Korea, there is little doubt that we will have to expand our military. The way to meet the increased manpower requirements is not by instituting a draft or lowering standards. It is by making the military a field that will attract more of the nation's youth. That means increasing pay. It is criminal that young married soldiers have to go on food stamps to feed their families. It also means that soldiers should have better living conditions when they are at their home station. When the active-duty soldiers left Fort Dix, N.J., a number of the barracks were given over to the justice system to be used as prisons. The same barracks that were good enough to house our soldiers required $40 million in improvements before being deemed fit enough to house convicted felons.


 

 
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Our military also needs a rest. Armies are there to fight our country's wars. They are not peacekeepers. When so many enemies confront the nation, the best use of the 82nd Airborne is not to help children in Kosovo get to school. Green Berets are best used for hunting down and killing al-Qaeda terrorists in the hills of Afghanistan, not being mayors in Haiti. It is time to start being very careful about missions on which we dissipate strength. We will not be able to retain our best troops or attract enough new ones if we continue to deploy our forces for months at a time on missions peripheral to our security.

As Doug Bandow states in his Cato Institute study of the draft, "A return to conscription would yield a less-experienced, less-table and less-efficient military. Inducement, not coercion, is the answer to sagging retention. Studies have consistently indicated that the most effective remedy is improved compensation."

By taking care of our soldiers, using them only for critical missions and ensuring that they have the best equipment and training available, we will be able to expand and maintain a quality force that will be capable of defeating any enemies we may face in coming decades.

COPYRIGHT 2003 News World Communications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group




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